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The Waikiki Aquarium Opens New Exhibit

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For a relaxing change of pace…the Waikiki Aquarium

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Exhibit

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Exhibit is the Waikiki Aquariums first new exhibit in 6-years.  The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which includes the chain of 120+ islands and atolls that string some 1200 miles to the northwest of Niihau,  is home to over 7,000 marine species, a quarter of which are found nowhere else on Earth.  The 4,000 gallon display will feature many species of fish rarely seen outside of this protected area.

The Waikiki Aquarium…3rd oldest aquarium in the country

It opened its doors on March 19, 1904, and was then called the Honolulu Aquarium.  A state-of-the-art facility, it had 35 tanks and 400 species in its collection and was proclaimed to have the finest collection of fishes in the world.

Its tradition as a research facility began in 1912 with a donation from the C.M. Cooke Estate for a marine biology research laboratory.  When its lease expired in 1919, the Cooke Estate ceded the Aquarium’s property lease to the Territory of Hawaii and operations were turned over to the then newly formed University of Hawaii.

In 1949, the Territory Legislature funded construction of a new aquarium to the south of the original structure and in 1955, the Waikiki Aquarium opened.  This is the building that I originally visited back in the 60’s and which still stands today.  The 1990’s brought a focus on more naturalistic exhibits that focused on the marine life of Hawaii and the western Pacific, as well as significant renovation of the facilities, and in 2000 the Aquarium was designated a Coastal Ecosystem Learning Center of the Coastal America partnership.

It was also during this period that they instituted the coral propagation program, for which the Aquarium is now world-renowned.   The purpose of this program is to supply aquariums and researchers world-wide with live coral specimens while protecting coral in the wild.   The ultimate goal of the program is to reach the point where they can re-introduce corals back into the wild to help propagate dying reefs.

The Waikiki Aquarium Houses Six Main Areas:

  • The Corals Are Alive:  Hawaiian coral reefs are unique in that they are geologically young reefs and are the most geographically isolated reefs in the world.
  • The Galleries at the Aquarium:  highlight the aquatic communities of the tropical Pacific and Hawaii.
  • The Edge of the Reef exhibit is a 7,500 gallon (28,400 liter) outdoor exhibit that recreates a typical Hawaiian shoreline.
  • The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals.
  • The Ocean Aquaculture display focuses on the raising of a Hawaiian favorite, the “moi”, aka Pacific Six Fingered Threadfin (Polydactylus sexfilis).
  • Coral Farm exhibit is a working coral propagation facility enabling us to provide hundreds of coral colonies a year to other aquariums and research institutions.
  • Seahorse exhibit takes viewers behind the scenes at Waikiki Aquarium to talk about the care and feeding of seahorses.
  • The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Exhibit

The Waikiki Aquarium also offers a number of educational and fun activities and events for the family.  These range from night viewings of some of the nocturnal residents in the aquarium to exploring the nearby tidal pools.  Or, you might want to get involved with NOAA’s Ocean Exploration Curriculum Workshop or the Marine Educators’ Night at the Waikīkī Aquarium for adults.

So, while the outward appearance of the Waikiki Aquarium may not rival its larger counterparts on the mainland, it still warrants a visit if you have any interest in the local sea creatures and the many conservation efforts being led by this University of Hawaii operated facility.  What is lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its world renown status!


  • for adults…$9;
  • for locals (kama’ainas), seniors (65+), and active military…$6;
  • youths (13-17) or those with a disability…$4;
  •  juniors (5-16)…$2;
  •  and children (4 and under)…FREE.

Open 9:00 to 4:30 pm daily; closes early at 2:30 Thanksgiving Day; closed for the Honolulu Marathon and Christmas.   Located walking distance of Waikiki at 2777 Kalakaua Ave., call for more information (808)923-9741.

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